Nov 5, 2021 - News

Des Moines faces firefighter shortage

The exterior of Des Moines' new fire station #11.

Des Moines' new Fire Station #11 opened Monday at 4144 Hubbell Ave. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

A shortage of firefighters is costing Des Moines thousands of dollars in weekly overtime, fire chief John TeKippe told Axios this week.

Why it matters: The shortage keeps at least two of the department's 23 fire vehicles, like trucks or ambulances, grounded at any given time.

What's happening: New firefighter training was delayed last year due to the pandemic, City Manager Scott Sanders told the City Council last month.

  • There are currently about 25 shift vacancies each day due to understaffing or for things like vacation, sick leave or military service.

State of play: The department is playing catch-up with training and hiring, but expects to be in a staffing jam through at least the first half of next year, TeKippe said.

  • Seventeen new firefighters will complete their training in late December.
  • Multiple retirements in coming weeks, along with potential illnesses or injuries, will keep the department below its 274-person operations staffing level, TeKippe said.

What they're doing: The department will begin firefighter training in January with 30 people, nearly double the number of the current class.

  • At least seven are paramedics and will begin fire station work as early as June because they've already received a portion of their training. The rest will join stations in early 2023.

Risk level: DSM maintains enough staff to simultaneously handle at least two structure fires and three EMS calls at all times.

  • And the pumper at the new #11 station has an advanced life support system and carries the same paramedic equipment as an ambulance.
  • That allows emergency staff to begin life-saving support on the scene prior to when an ambulance from another location can arrive to transport people to medical facilities.

Bottom line: DSM’s firefighter pipeline has a pandemic kink.

  • City officials are getting a grip on the problem but there’s not a quick fix to training and hiring new firefighters.

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